Today: Reports find Thanksgiving weekend shopping frenzy couldn't undo Hurricane Sandy's economic damage, and Windows 8 did nothing to boost PC sales. Plus, Intel (INTC) is asked to bail out Sharp, and Facebook continues its stock recovery.
Rough November for PC sales, major retailers
Disappointing sales news from two fronts smacked the struggling U.S. economy with a double whammy Thursday. One report found that successful Black Friday retail sales weren't enough to make up for the hit Hurricane Sandy delivered earlier in the month, and another report found the release of Microsoft's Windows 8 did nothing to boost computer sales.
The report by research company RetailMetrics found November sales at major retailers were up a tepid 1.7 percent over last year, a far cry from the company's prediction of a 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent gain. But year-over-year sales for November decreased at Macy's, Target and Nordstrom, which all fell about 1 percent, and Kohl's, which fell 5.6 percent, according to a New York Times report. The four-day Thanksgiving weekend did set a record for online shopping, and overall spending was up almost 13 percent from 2011. But disruptions caused by Sandy delivered a $4 billion hit to retail sales at the beginning of the month, a hole that the holiday surge just couldn't overcome.
"November is critical, and the fact that it had these really devastating back-to-back weather events at the beginning means it may be tough to make up for those missed days in a heavily populated part of the country," Alison Paul, a Deloitte analyst in Chicago, told Bloomberg News.
About half of fourth-quarter retail sales usually come in December, and retailers are banking on a strong finish. Still, overall sales are expected to grow just 4.1 percent this year, the smallest year-over-year increase since 2009.
Any sales increase at all would be welcome news to the computer industry, but that's looking increasingly unlikely. A report Thursday from research company NPD Group found sales of Windows computers dropped 21 percent in the three week following Microsoft's release of Windows 8, compared to the same period a year earlier. Many in the PC industry had hoped the new operating system would spur consumers to purchase new computers. PC sales have been in a prolonged sales slump, due to tougher competition from tablets and smartphones. This year is expected to be the first since 2001 that worldwide PC sales have been down.
The report did not blame the drop on Windows 8, but said it was a continuation of the global PC sales downturn.
"We still have the whole holiday selling season ahead of us, but clearly Windows 8 did not prove to be the impetus for a sales turnaround some had hoped for," NPD analyst Stephen Baker in a statement, according to an Associated Press report.
Sharp seeks financial help from Intel, Dell
Japanese electronics maker Sharp is reportedly reaching out to Intel, among others, in an effort to gain an infusion of cash.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Sharp, which is in the midst of a prolonged slump with sales dropping 16 percent this year, has asked Santa Clara-based Intel, along with Dell and Qualcomm, for capital investments in exchange for a stake in the company. Sharp is reportedly seeking $244 million from both Intel and Dell, and less from Qualcomm.
Intel is the world's largest chipmaker, but may be looking to further diversify from its core business; it already has a significant software business, and may be seeking a foot in the door to the lucrative tablet and smartphone market. Sharp manufactures high-quality displays for Apple's (AAPL) iPhones and iPads. Intel has also reportedly been interested in Sharp's power-saving displays for its touchscreen line of ultrabooks.
Intel shares dropped 2.79 percent Thursday, or 56 cents, to close at $19.53, not far from the 52-week low point it hit earlier this month.
Facebook continues gains as Wall Street shakes fiscal cliff fears
A roller-coaster day on Wall Street ended on an upswing Thursday. All three major indexes posted modest gains after a session that saw dramatic swings up and down as investors worried about the U.S. government's looming fiscal cliff.
A mid-day announcement by Republican House Speaker John Boehner that there had been no progress in fiscal cliff talks sent the markets into an immediate nosedive, erasing gains from the morning. But later comments from Democrats that progress was indeed being made helped boost stocks up in the afternoon.
"It's amazing how quick the reactions are. Two sentences come out and it moves the market 50 points," money manager Alan Lancz told the Wall Street Journal. "Europe is off the radar, and the economic numbers are kind of meaningless. It's all trumped now by the fiscal progress, or lack thereof."
The tech-heavy Nasdaq finished the day in the best shape, up 0.68 percent; the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poors 500 both closed up less than half a percent. Among Silicon Valley stocks, Apple, Google (GOOG), HP and eBay (EBAY) all gained more than 1 percent. Social networks fared especially well, with Menlo Park-based Facebook staying on the comeback road with 3.64 percent gain to close at $27.32, its highest point since July, and San Francisco gaming company -- and Facebook partner -- Zynga riding its coattails, rising 4.38 percent to close at $2.62, its best point since mid-October.
Silicon Valley tech stocks
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Down 67.96 , or 2.25 percent, to 2,956.34.
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Down 168.32 or 1.27 percent, to 13.038.27.
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Down 22.47, or 1.61 percent, to 1,369.10.
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services.